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California Employees Defamation Blog

What is Defamation and Why Does it Matter in the Employment Context?

Good character takes a lifetime to build. "It is probably the dearest possession that a man has, and once lost is almost impossible to regain. The possession of a good reputation is conducive to happiness in life and contentment. The loss of it, . . . brings shame, misery and heartache." McCoy v. Hearst, 42 Cal.3d 835, 858 fn.22 (1986). For these reasons, the law has a strong interest in redressing the harm done to a person's reputation and recognizes that a person has a right not to be defamed by false statements.

Defamation is a legal right provided by California statute. See California Civil Code §§ 44, 45a, and 46. Generally, it is a false statement of fact that harms a person's reputation and is read or heard by someone other than the person being talked about. When the statement is made orally, it's called slander; a written statement is called libel.

Although easy to say, it's not quite that easy to prove. In many employment situations, there is a requirement that the statement be made with malice, which may be tricky to establish and can often be the issue on which a defamation claim will turn.

In the employment context, defamation claims sometimes arise after the employment relationship ends and when a former employer is asked for a reference. Typically, the false statement is about the reasons why the employee was fired or the quality of the employee's performance. In such a case, if your former employer makes misrepresentations about you that prevent you from obtaining employment, your former employer could be liable under Labor Code section 1050, which also makes defamation in this context a criminal misdemeanor. But defamation claims most often arise in the course of employment when there is an attempt to justify an unfair action taken against the employee, such as termination, demotion, failure to pay bonus award, or sometimes just company politics.

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About Paul Greenberg and
Greenberg & Weinmann

paul greenberg

Paul Greenberg is managing partner of Greenberg & Weinmann, a law firm that is committed to advancing justice in the workplace and protecting employee rights. For over 25 years, (the last 20 with partner Iris Weinmann), he has handled legal claims on behalf of employees, including over 50 defamation cases that have resulted in significant compensatory and punitive damages and Labor Code section 1050 penalties, in both state and federal court. Greenberg & Weinmann has successfully litigated defamation claims to verdict and received favorable appellate court decisions upholding or reinstating employee rights with respect to their defamation claims. Greenberg & Weinmann is based in Santa Monica, California but litigates statewide.

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The information contained above is intended for purely informational purposes.
It does not in any way constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. 
Use of such material does not, in any way, constitute an attorney-client relationship; only an express signed agreement can create such a relationship.

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